Here’s a fascinating statistic for those who swear by numbers.
In the 24 months leading into the World Twenty20 in September 2007 (where India emerged champions), India played 23 Test matches and 66 one-day internationals (see graphic). In the 25 months or so thereafter, right up to Wednesday night’s big win in Nagpur, India had played 22 Tests and 66 ODIs, an almost identical number.
The difference? The 17 Twenty20 International games India played, including 14 at the two Twenty20 World Cups, between September 2007 and October 2009. In a similar period before that, between September 2005 and August 2007, India played just one T20 game.
But even that difference in T20s is not much really, given that the World Cup games all happened over hectic fortnights. So why do we really get the impression that there’s suddenly too much cricket?
Logically, only because of club cricket: primarily the two seasons of the Indian Premier League, and now, the just-concluded Champions League, gave us 59 games for 2008 and (whew!) 82 for 2009.
Even if you go by pure numbers, 2009 saw much more cricket than any year preceding it. But that feeling of being swamped was probably heightened because of two reasons. First, there was a disconnect with the IPL this year because it was geographically distant from the Indian fan. Two, the inaugural Champions League Twenty20 failed to enthuse because of a triple whammy —local fans had trouble identifying or identifying with most foreign teams; the IPL teams that made the cut did badly; and most top India players were missing in action.
So against this backdrop, Australian skipper Ricky Ponting’s statement right before the first game of the current series was bound to generate debate about the amount of cricket played.
Ponting, never one to mince words, was obviously not a fan of the fact that there was just a day between the end of the Champions League final and the start of the first India vs Australia game.
Three of his players, Brett Lee, Nathan Hauritz and Doug Bollinger, were part of the victorious New South Wales team before rushing back to do Australia duty and Ponting was not amused with the frenetic pace of things.
“There’s no doubt those guys playing in the (Champions League) final hindered our preparation. We had three players fly in and get to the hotel at 8.30pm Saturday night and we’re leaving the hotel at 7am on match morning,” said Ponting.
“There was not much time for us to get our team tactics in order.”
The Aussies still won that first game but lost Lee to injury — probably born out of sheer fatigue and over-use of his body.
While Ponting’s detractors could argue that Lee (and the others) always had a choice to opt out of the club games, the amount of money at stake made that an unreasonable probability for most people.
Still, it does call into question the various cricket boards’ scheduling of events, if only with a view to protecting their own players.
Like Lee, India’s premier pacer, Zaheer Khan, has been out through injury for a while, no doubt aggravated by the amount of cricket played. Fast bowlers after all, are the most fragile of cricketers and, in many ways, the most vital.
Just a quick look at the number of injuries Zaheer has had in the nine years since he started for India, compared to say, a Kapil Dev over his first nine years for India (see graphic), gives us an idea of how much more strain is put on top tier pace bowlers today.
On a final note, here’s another interesting stat that might give the BCCI some pause to think before scheduling more and more T20s — the Indian public has been notoriously fickle when it comes to supporting their team and India, despite popular perception, is not a very good T20 unit.
India’s winning percentage in the 17 T20 internationals they have played in the last two years or so, is only 47 per cent. Even if you say that T20 games are unpredictable (not so if you're the Kolkata Knight Riders — poor Ponting!), that’s a telling statistic.